ASHEVILLE - "Better than wonderful" is Matthew Bacoat Jr.'s assessment of the ongoing renovations at Asheville Municipal Golf Course, a glowing review considering the "deficits" of recent years which saw the beloved 122-acre historic course slide into disrepair, featuring patchy greens, crumbling cart paths, plunging sinkholes and languishing conditions.
As the course prepares to welcome its 63rd annual Skyview Golf Tournament on July 11, the longest running Black-owned and operated professional tournament in the country, administrator Boacote said he's seeing the return of players who left the tournament in years past.
Now under the leadership of new operators, Commonwealth Golf Partners II - Asheville LLC, which took over management of the city-owned course in October, the golf course looks better than it has in years, what Boacote attributed to work by the city and the course's new management.
“They all have done a great job, as a team, in bringing about a new day out here for all folks to come and enjoy playing a great game of golf,” Boacote said.
The 18-hole golf course was designed by Hall of Fame golf architect Donald Ross and opened for play in 1927. It is home to Skyview, the longest running Black-owned and operated professional tournament in the country.
Bacoate has organized the tournament since 2015, but his work with the Skyview Golf Association began in 1960, its inaugural year, when he was charged with making signs and managing the master scoreboard. He remembers going to a grocery store and asking for spare cartons — he can clearly remember at least one Carnation box — which he flattened for use as signs.
In crayon, he wrote down tournament details and posted them throughout Black neighborhoods in the city — tacked to a wooden peg and stuck in the ground. A "tremendous crowd came out," he recalled, few who played golf, but there to watch Black golfers play.
The first tournament featured all Black players, with 50 participants. In its second year, the tournament was integrated, the first to do so in the Southeast. The largest tournament was in 1975 when 254 golfers participated.
Early afternoon on July 10, Bacoate said 137 people were registered for this year's tournament, but he anticipates more throughout the day, likely to top 160 participants.
The 63rd Skyview Golf Pro-Am Tournament will take place from July 11-13 at 226 Fairway Drive in East Asheville.
City of Asheville v. Pope Golf
Chris Corl, the city's director of Community and Regional Entertainment Facilities, the department behind a number of major city facilities, including the course, also noted the changes at the Muni under new management from Commonwealth.
The ongoing $3.5 million course renovations have completed Phase 1, Corl said, funded through a mix of city of Asheville capital funds, user fees and grants. To date, $2.8 million has been committed to the course renovations, according to the project website.
In the months since Commonwealth's contract with the city began, Corl said the "continued, ongoing" maintenance and efforts from new management is noticeable, from clearly defined fairways; rebuilt and sodded greens, tee boxes and fairways; bunker restoration; repaired cart paths and more.
“We’ve had a few of the pros come in a couple days early to get a practice round or two in, and their reviews are amazing,” Corl said. People who've played there 20-plus years have said it's the best condition they've ever seen the course, he added.
Commonwealth Golf took over the course on Oct. 1 in a seven-year license and management agreement with the city, after 10 years under former operator Pope Golf.
In October, the city filed a lawsuit against Pope, alleging deteriorating course conditions, which have allowed the greens, fairways and tees to fall into neglect, destruction of property and $340,830 in outstanding lease payments to the city.
Though a "stay" has been issued on the back lease payments, Corl said the amount owed may continue climbing due to costs incurred from fixing up the areas left to "neglect" by Pope.
The complaint was filed with Buncombe County Superior Court Oct. 4, over three months after the city attorney's office sent a letter to Keith Pope, CEO of Pope Golf, based in Sarasota, Florida, advising that the city intended to initiate litigation over the past due lease payments, some of which had been accumulating since 2016.
The course itself has seen "steadily degrading conditions" over the last several years, according to the city, and at its center are significant stormwater drainage issues, which Pope said in September is the reason behind not only the course conditions but his termination of lease payments.
Pope Golf submitted an answer to the complaint in December, which denies almost all allegations and calls for the court to dismiss the complaint. The document reiterates Pope's belief that issues, including the drainage problems, were within control of the city, and outside control of Pope Golf.
Corl said he hasn't heard many updates on the ongoing litigation in recent weeks, but hoped for a resolution before the suit hits the 12-month mark in September.
An order for a mediated settlement conference was filed with the court in March, with a deadline for completion of mediation of July 15. If the case is not settled out of court, the order names a tentative trial date of Nov. 13.
Other 'Muni' updates to come
An organization intended to support the course as a fundraising partner has recently clinched nonprofit status, with a mission of encouraging the "rich legacy" of accessible and affordable golf at the municipal course.
Now dubbed "Friends of Asheville Muni," the new nonprofit president Paul Bonesteel said efforts to create the organization had been underway since last year.
Bonesteel is the documentary filmmaker and director behind "Muni," a "love letter to the game of golf" at Asheville municipal course, which was released in 2020 and featured on Golf Channel and PBS.
Like Boacote, Bonesteel said he's noticed a "dramatic change" since new management took over the course, though there's plenty of work left to be done.
“They’ve made some things happen ahead of schedule,” Bonesteel said, work that has caught the attention of players and community. "They've gone beyond expectation."
After the Skyview tournament, phase 2 of the work will begin, which includes more tee box rebuilds, bunker restoration and additional cart staging, Corl said. After phase 2, the stormwater portion of the project will begin, likely starting around late October or early November.
Of Skyview, Bonesteel said, "there's been an abundance of support for the Skyview Golf Tournament through the years and I see it continuing very strong today, and that's super exciting."
Sarah Honosky is the city government reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. News Tips? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or message on Twitter at @slhonosky. Please support local, daily journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: 63rd annual Skyview Golf Tournament begins amid course renovations